Fruits and vegetables are rich in essential vitamins and minerals, beneficial plant compounds called polyphenols, fiber, and water. One way to eat your produce is juicing, or extracting the liquid from fruits and vegetables with a specially designed machine. Juicing can be a convenient way to increase daily servings of produce (like apples, spinach, and oranges). But does drinking juice really offer the same health benefits that you get from consuming the whole food?
What is a “whole food”?
A whole food hasn’t been processed. Fruits and vegetables are are great examples of whole foods, because, well, you eat the whole food. No nutrition label is needed for foods like apples, kale, and carrots. However, juice is only part of a whole food that has been processed (or separated) using a machine, so it cannot be considered a whole food.
What’s the difference between juicing and blending?
When you make juice, you’re extracting the pulp of vegetables and fruits, leaving behind a juice in a smooth liquid state. Conversely, blending is just simply combining all the ingredients that you place in your blender, which results in a smoothie that contains all the pulp, fiber, liquid, and nutrients. Smoothies are much heavier than juices, so they also keep you fuller for longer. Whole foods can be difficult to chew and some vegetables don’t taste good when they are consumed raw—blending your fruits and vegetables can solve this problem!
Is juice nutritionally equivalent to eating fruits and vegetables?
No. Fiber is a major component missing in juice. This nutrient helps slow absorption of sugar into the blood, aids digestion, and helps you feel fuller for longer. The skins, peel, and pulp of many fruits and vegetables are naturally high in fiber, but they are typically removed during the juicing process. Therefore, when you drink apple juice, your blood sugar levels rise more quickly than they would if you had eaten an apple.
A sharp rise in your blood sugar causes the pancreas to release more insulin, which can result in a “sugar crash”, or a decrease in energy. If you’re juicing, be sure to keep in mind that some fruits and vegetables have a higher sugar content than others. Although vegetables generally have less sugar than fruits, carrot and beet juices can still be higher in sugar.
Can juicing help you lose weight?
To lose weight, you must burn more calories than you consume. Drinking juice might hinder your weight loss efforts because juices are high in sugar, which makes them more caloric than whole fruits or vegetables. For instance, an orange contains about 60 calories, but one serving of orange juice (about eight ounces) has roughly 110 calories. Vegetable juices tend to be lower in sugar than fruit juices, but be sure to check the label for calories and sugar if you’re purchasing pre-made juices. Since juice is also lacking in fiber, it won’t satiate you the same way that eating a whole fruit or vegetable might. Eating whole foods is also slower than drinking. There has been some research that shows that people who eat slowly tend to consume fewer calories and feel more satiated than quick eaters.
Additionally, “juice cleanses” are still popular, and some are advertised as weight-loss methods. A juice cleanse generally involves substituting juice for food. Proponents claim that this process will rid the body of certain toxins, but consuming too much juice and fluid can cause diarrhea and loss of water weight. Since electrolytes are found in your bodily fluids, your kidneys have to work harder to fluid water balance when you lose too much water weight. Consuming only juice, no matter how nutrient-rich it is, is not a healthy or sustainable diet because it lacks other essential macronutrients: fat and protein. 100% fruit or vegetable juices can certainly be part of a healthy weight-loss regimen if consumed in moderation, but should not be relied to meet all your macronutrient and micronutrient needs.
Not all juices are created equal
Some juices are higher in sugar than others. If you have a juicer at home gives you more control over the ingredients, making it easier to consume a healthy 100% fruit or vegetable juice. Keep in mind that whatever kind of fruit or vegetable you choose, the juice will only be as nutritious as the original product. It’s also important to drink your juice as soon as possible since many nutrients tend to break down once they are exposed to light and air. Many people also don’t realize that bacteria can grow in fresh juice! If you’re making your own juice, either juice only what you can consume in one sitting, store in a container in the refrigerator for or purchase juice that has been pasteurized.
Conversely, those fancy-looking (expensive) bottles of juice that you see at health food stores may not be the best choice. Be sure to check the label before you buy because many brands contain added sugars and preservatives.
If you’re looking for juice with the greatest nutritional value, you’re probably better off making your own.
Are there any benefits to juicing?
Juicing can help you reach the recommended servings for fruits and vegetables (a general recommendation is five servings per day). Eating the whole fruit or vegetable, or even blending them in a smoothie makes sure you're getting the full benefit of the produce. If you do decide to include juice as part of your diet, focus on consuming 100% fruit or vegetable mix (a mixture of the two can help control sugar levels). Not all your fruit or vegetable intake should be replaced with juice, because you'll miss out on several key nutrients.